She was reminiscent of a freshly baked Victoria sponge – her breath warm and sugary, her face round and golden. I longed to press my fingers into her flesh and watch it yield, in the same way mum assesses the readiness of our cakes. I’d stand close to her whenever the opportunity arose, breathing in that sweet scent and allowing her soft cardigan to settle against my arm. My skin would crackle as our tiny hairs entwined and for a fleeting moment, we were one. I greedily savoured those delicious moments, regurgitating them in my mind until they no longer resembled the truth, ripening into tales of the adventures I believed we’d have together. My tummy would fizz and flip excitedly, as though a pod of dolphins were inside me performing tricks and I wished for them to never cease.
Although I’d known her only a few months and I didn’t quite understand my feelings, I couldn’t fathom a world without her. It was like she’d always been there, and always would be. Until that day when, as with my cakes that have been left in Tupperware too long, it all staled.
That morning she had us gather around and to thirty intent faces, she announced that she was to be married. Married! It didn’t matter to whom, because it wasn’t to me. She wanted us all to attend and while everyone else chittered excitedly, I choked back an acrid lump and protested, stamping my Mary Janes as my world imploded. How could she do this to me? I never spoke back; I never left snot in the sandpit; and I never peed my pants in class. It wasn’t fair!
I ran all the way home from school that day, leaving a stream of tears in my wake. I shouldered mum out of the way and slammed my bedroom door with a force that tipped my Smurf collection off the shelf. I trod through the tangle of blue limbs and pushed over my beloved kitchen on wheels, scattering plastic ham and eggs and miniature boxes of food across the floor. I reached for Teddy who was still asleep under my duvet and hugged him tightly. I held him against the place my heart had once occupied and wept into his tattered head that smelt faintly of slivers. And oh how I wept. I wept and I wept until I thought I might suffocate or at least drown poor Teddy. It hurt so much – the dolphins in my tummy had been replaced with a heavy ache and I missed their joyous presence.
As Teddy absorbed my distress, there came a tentative knock. It was mum with some silly idea about baking a celebratory cake for the soon-to-be married Miss Jones. Won’t that be nice, she’d chirped. But why would I want to bake her a cake, I scoffed, perplexed. But then an image materialized of me adoringly presenting her with a cake I’d lovingly prepared and a calm descended upon me.
I played in the garden while I awaited mum’s shout that she was ready for me, having combined the butter and sugar and beat in the eggs. I donned my Victoria Plum apron, and slipped my hands into the batter. I sploshed and sloshed with zeal, ignoring instructions to ‘fold’ and ‘be gentle’ until my skin was no longer visible beneath the beige slop. Cocoa powder muddied the mixture and I assured mum I was almost there. She went to ready the soapy water for my hands, knowing how cocoa sticks beneath the nails if it’s not washed out immediately. As soon as her back was turned, I dug around in my apron for the little jar that gran had gotten with her cream tea just the other day that had somehow found its way into my pocket. Once I’d liberated the lid, to the cake mix I added a generous splash of my secret ingredient: a slurry of worm guts, dismembered beetles, and whatever else I’d scooped out of the soil not ten minutes before, all thinned down with milk three-weeks old found lurking in dad’s shed. Bugs and batter bound together, it baked. As it puffed up under my watchful eye, those playful dolphins returned to their rightful place.
Well, if I couldn’t have my cake and eat it, I’d instead delight in her having hers.
Fee Johnstone resides in Scotland with her wife and cats. She came 3rd in a writing competition last year but still believes it to be an admin error. Fee prioritises cats, craft beer and cheese over most other things. Twitter handle: @missfeeee